Welcome! This site is devoted to Priesmeyers everywhere and to their rich family history. If you are a member of the clan, you can learn about your ancestry, reaching back to the 16th century, and discover how you are related to your many Priesmeyer cousins around the world. And you can read stories and see photos of your branch of the family, adding your own if you like.

 

HIGHLIGHTS

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’d like to know more, read on . . .

 

 

OPPENWEHE: THE PRIESMEYER HOME TOWN

 

Oppenwehe is a small farming village in northwestern Germany not far from the city of Osnabrück. It sits on the sandy soil of the great Saxon plain and has a current population of just over two thousand. As agricultural land it has always been marginal, best suited to grazing animals and growing flax. Historians and archeologists agree that it was first settled by Saxons, though sparsely, during the period from 500 to 800 AD. Following Charlemagne’s conquest and conversion of the Saxon tribes in the late 8th century, the existing settlements were awarded to his secular and religious retainers as feudal estates.

 

Thereafter the peasant settlements were devoted primarily to making the land productive so as to provide revenues to support their noble and church landlords. At first, each village was centered on one peasant and his family, usually called Meyer, following a Roman model. The Meyer farm became the nucleus of a group of families who farmed the land, submitted a portion of their produce to the Meyer for safekeeping, and were then required to assist in transporting it to the landlord. In 1227, the first mention of Oppenwehe in the documents, four of the farms and the families living on them were sold by their noble landlord, Helimbert von Manen, to the newly-established Cistercian convent in in the nearby village of Levern; in 1235 the convent acquired the rest of the farms of Oppenwehe and their inhabitants. The third of the four original farms, judging from the number it later acquired, was that of the Priesmeyer family.

 

We know nothing, unfortunately, about the very earliest Priesmeyers, except that their farm was located on a plain, called the Röhe, from which they acquired an alternate surname, “achter den Röhen,” in use until the early 1600s, when it was fully replaced by Priesmeyer. We cannot even be sure that the Priesmeyers who emerged into the historical record in the early 17th century were direct descendants of the earliest settlers, since, as we’ll see later, surnames initially associated with farms persisted, even if the original settler family died out and was replaced by an entirely new family. But we do know that the Priesmeyer lineage established by about 1570 has been in unbroken possession of the family farm at Oppenwehe 3 until the present and is the origin of nearly all Priesmeyers today.

 

The earliest farms settled were typically the largest, with between forty and eighty acres, plus access to common grazing land. The soil was sown with various kinds of grain, especially rye, and with grasses for fodder. Each of the large farms had a pair of horses for plowing; several cows, pigs, and sheep; and innumerable geese and chickens. While farming methods cannot be called scientific, the peasants were aware of the value of fertilizing their land and of letting parts of it lie alternatively fallow. Farm houses and barns were not clustered together for protection, as was customary in other parts of Germany, but rather were dispersed in order to be close to the family’s main fields. Farming plots were usually long and narrow, reflecting the relative convenience of plowing without having to turn the team frequently.

 

Over time, the population of Oppenwehe and of all of the villages in the area grew and declined in response to the success of harvests and, especially, due to periodic epidemics. The Black Death of the 14th century devastated large parts of Germany, but by 1600 the population had reestablished itself to levels reached before the plague, only to be dealt another massive blow by the Thirty Years War, from 1618 to 1648. The armies of several kingdoms marched and countermarched across central Europe, pillaging, raping, seizing crops, and killing at will anyone who impeded their progress. In some parts of Germany as many as two-thirds of the population perished during this period, but Oppenwehe and its neighboring villages were mostly spared. Still, the unsettled conditions, which caused some families to abandon their farms and move northward to more peaceful areas and which saw the departure of many young men for military service, led to a period of stagnation. By 1682, when the first official census was taken, the population of Oppenwehe was recorded to be about four hundred individuals in fifty-seven households, which is considered roughly comparable to the level that it had reached one hundred years earlier.

 

As noted above, nearly all of the villages and the constituent farms (and their farming families) were the property of noble or church landlords. By the late Middle Ages most of Germany, which was itself divided into many kingdoms and principalities, had become a patchwork of thousands of intermingled and overlapping landholdings, as landlords exchanged parts of their properties with each other to settle debts, to fulfill pledges, or, they hoped, to purchase their way into heaven. From 1235, as we have seen, all of Oppenwehe was the property of the Cistercian convent in Levern, seven miles to the southwest, as depicted here in the year 1632. From that time forward, each peasant family was required to submit a portion of its annual produce to the convent to support the religious community. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the convent was converted into a “freiweltliches Dammenstift” --  a Lutheran religious community for the daughters of noble families -- all of Oppenwehe continued to be dependent on the newly-styled “Stift Levern” and its prominent noble provost. From the viewpoint of the peasants, this was a relatively good thing, because life under a church landlord was generally easier than under a secular one.

 

When the Priesmeyer name first appeared in written documents, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the family farm, at Oppenwehe 3, was held by Heinrich Priesmeyer, born in about 1570. As he approached his 60s and retirement, he appealed successfully to his landlord to permit him to pass the family farm to his daughter, Catharine, and to her intended husband, Heinrich Mundt, of Oppenwehe 36. This appeal suggests that she was not the heir originally preferred by Heinrich Priesmeyer and his landlord; rather, the intended heir was probably a son born in about 1605. We don’t know what prevented this son from inheriting, although it may be suggested that he had enlisted for military service during the Thirty Years War and had never returned home.

 

In any case, Catharine Priesmeyer and Heinrich Mundt were married in 1636 and took possession of the Priesmeyer farm. In accordance with regional custom, Heinrich adopted the Priesmeyer surname, and thus it was passed on to their descendants. The couple had at least five children, and their oldest son, Thomas, born in about 1635, was eventually chosen to inherit the farm, with the approval of their landlord. As Thomas approached his marriage, and therefore the receipt of his inheritance, including the farm, his parents took a relatively unusual step for the time: they established their two other sons on new farms of their own, carved out of the original family farm. Normally these sons would have been limited to just a moderate cash bequest to facilitate marriage to farm-inheriting women, but evidently the Priesmeyer holdings were substantial enough to permit this more generous bequest and to gain the approval of their landlord and the civil authorities. To memorialize this action, Thomas submitted to his landlord an addendum to his marriage contract, evidently drafted by his parents, which read:

 

I Thomas Priesmeyer and my parents declare that we wish to give our sons Gerd Heinrich and Heinrich Priesmeyer each 60 talers in cash from our farm and 6 talers for cattle, and each a horse and a suit of clothes to hold for their wedding day; also to Gerd Heinrich a piece of land of two Scheffelsaat [about two acres] by Johann Spreen’s plot in the Röhe, and to Heinrich two pieces of land of four Scheffelsaat [about four acres] on the Westhoue; and to give the daughter what Marie [Thomas’s fiancée] brings with the dowry; and to pay for a Freibrief [marriage release] or Weinkauf [marriage fee] for the children.

Present as witnesses: Gerd Meyer, Johann Spreen, Johann Bosse.

Oppenwehe, 14 August 1662.

 

The resulting new farms, which were given the numbers 47 and 50 in Oppenwehe, were initially quite small, although they grew substantially as later generations added to them. Thirty years later, Thomas’s oldest son, Martin, born in 1664, also established a new farm in Oppenwehe, which was given the number 53. Each of the resulting four Priesmeyer farms in Oppenwehe -- numbers 3, 47, 50, and 53 -- eventually sent emigrants to America. Later sections of this history will describe the development of each branch and its emigrant offspring.

 

In the census of 1682 we have a snapshot of the first three of the four farms. Oppenwehe 3, headed by Thomas Priesmeyer, which was the original family homestead, was fairly large, at about 55 acres plus access to common grazing land. Major livestock consisted of two horses, four cows, eighteen sheep, and a sow. Each year the family was required to submit ten percent of their produce to their landlord, Stift Levern, and to provide transportation to its storehouses. They also owed annual obligations to three separate civil authorities, Amt Rahden, Amt Levern, and Amt Lemförde. In total, these civil obligations consisted of another tenth of the produce of their farm, plus several sheep and hens, a moderate amount of cash, and about ten days of compulsory labor on roads, public buildings, and transportation.

 

The two new family farms, established just a few years before the census, were much smaller. Oppenwehe 47, headed by Thomas’s brother Heinrich, had about four acres, plus access to common grazing land, which was a substantial benefit. Livestock consisted of just two cows. Like their relatives at Oppenwehe 3, they provided ten percent of their crop to Stift Levern and another ten percent to the civil authorities. Other obligations were proportionally smaller, and they were evidently not required to provide personal labor, possibly because they lacked the horses that were often required. The farm at Oppenwehe 50, headed by Thomas’s brother Gerd Heinrich, was even smaller, at about two acres, plus grazing rights. As at number 47, livestock consisted of two cows, and obligations the landlord and civil authorities were similar. Interestingly, both of these small farms were also required to provide a skein of yarn yearly to the sexton of Wehdem Parish, of which Oppenwehe was a part.

 

 

LIFE IN A NORTH GERMAN VILLAGE

 

In 1700 the economy of a typical north German village was based nearly entirely on peasant families engaged in subsistence farming. Each household, usually consisting of three generations living in common, was expected to maintain itself on the produce of its own fields, with enough surplus to meet the relatively moderate exactions of the landlord and the civil authorities. Because a certain minimum amount of land was required to meet these demands for a family, it was in the interest of all that the number of families and households be maintained at a fairly stable level, once all available land had been occupied.

 

In most of northern Germany, population stability was maintained through indivisibility of farms and limitations on family formation. In each generation, one offspring was selected to inherit the entire family farm, which was transferred to his or her possession at the time of marriage. A detailed marriage contract formalized the transfer, contained guarantees for lifelong maintenance of the retiring parents, and granted a small living bequest to all other offspring. Ideally, the non-inheriting offspring would use the bequest as a wedding endowment to secure marriage with the heir of a nearby farm, but often the bequest was too small, or there was a surplus of non-inheriting offspring in a particular generation. While some of these excess offspring remained on their family farms as unmarried field hands and servants, most of them, especially the young men, moved away to seek their fortunes in other communities and often joined the army.

 

Occasionally landless men and women were allowed to marry and live as renters and day-laborers, but only if they could demonstrate some capacity for supporting themselves, such as proficiency in a specific trade or craft. But since individuals unable to support themselves were the potentially costly responsibility of the community, with the burden falling on all of the peasant families through parish poor relief, there was broad consensus that permission to marry must be strictly limited to those with sufficient land or other resources to support a family. In 1700, no more than twenty percent of a typical village consisted of landless families.

 

During periods of population growth, however, there was considerable pressure to find sufficient land to support additional families. During the 15th and 16th centuries, as the population recovered from the plagues of the preceding period, new families, called Markkötter, were gradually accommodated on smaller plots of land, despite the objections of the older established families, who opposed the increased demands on common grazing land. Then, in the 16th century, it became necessary to settle additional new families, often headed by retired soldiers who had been promised land, on small plots actually carved from the village common and pieced together from inferior sections; the status of these families is reflected in the term applied to them: Brinksitzer, literally “brink-sitter.” While the original Priesmeyer home at Oppenwehe 3 was a large Erbkötter farm, the other three, established in the later 1600s, were smaller Brinksitzer farms.

 

As the area was populated, a distinct hierarchy emerged among the peasant families. At the top were the long-established Meyer and Erbkötter farmers. They had the most influence in village affairs, retained a larger share of access to common grazing land, and took leading roles in the management of the parish church. They endowed their children well and saw to it that most if not all were married to other land-holding families. Their children married relatively early, had several surviving offspring, and were honored frequently as godparents. The smaller land-holders -- Markkötter and Brinksitzer -- were less powerful, privileged, and prosperous. They struggled to find marriageable heirs for their children and were less prominent in the parish records. They could, however, gradually increase their landholdings through hard work and raise their relative status, as in fact happened with all three of the new Priesmeyer farms. By the late 1700s, all land-holders in general were being called Coloni (settlers), reflecting a gradual blending of the various categories.

 

The remarkable stability and conservatism of the social structure is exemplified by the history of the four established Priesmeyer farms in Oppenwehe. During the five generations between 1680 and 1820, each of the farm families had an average of six children per generation, of whom an average of four survived to adulthood. Of these four, one in each generation was chosen to inherit the family farm, and the other three were married to heirs of other substantial farms in Oppenwehe or nearby villages. Virtually no one left the immediate area, and no one fell out of the landholding class, with one exception, the line that led to the El Campo and Moulton branch, which we’ll examine later.

 

At the very bottom of the social hierarchy were those without any land -- the so-called Einlieger or Inquilinus (renter), Heuerling (laborer), or Häusling (house-dweller) families. They lived in small, shabby thatched cottages, which were sometimes converted sheds or bake-houses, located on the farms of land-holding families. They paid for their housing by working in the owners’ fields, and they were allowed to keep a share of the produce. They also hired themselves out to other families for field labor and odd jobs. In general, they married relatively late, had smaller numbers of surviving children, experienced a disproportionate share of out-of-wedlock births, and died young. They had virtually no voice in village and parish affairs, and they were seldom invited to be godparents.

 

It is important to emphasize that most land-holders did not actually own their farms. Rather, they were granted to them by their landlords in heritable life tenure so long as they maintained them in good and productive condition. In exchange, the landlord received a tithe of annual produce, usually one-tenth. But the relationship between peasant and landlord consisted of much more than this. All members of the family were legally eigenbehörig -- “dependent” -- on the landlord. They could not leave the farm without paying him a fee (Freilassung); at marriage they required his approval of the intended spouse and had to pay him a fee (Weinkauf); and at death he received one-half of the estate of the deceased (Sterbefall).

 

The peasant’s relationship to his landlord was thus basically feudal, a relic of the Middle Ages. But it was very far from the lord and serf relationship that characterized the large noble estates of East Prussia and Russia. By 1700 in northwest Germany, the landlord was seldom present in the village and often lived at a considerable distance. At least a part of the annual tithe had been converted from a portion of farm produce to a cash payment. It is evident from the documentary record that very few families were ever evicted from their land. In general, the relationship of “dependence” on a landlord was considered desirable. It conferred substantial security and stability of living conditions as well as significant status in the community.

 

Apart from the landlord, peasant families dealt with a small nucleus of authority figures. The local Amtshaus -- government office and tax station -- conveyed official decrees and managed the maintenance of roads and other infrastructure through compulsory labor, typically five to ten days per year for each family. More important for daily life were the local pastor and his sexton, who kept a close eye on their parishioners, recording their vital events, admonishing them to live virtuously, to work hard, and to limit their intake of alcohol. Members of the nobility were rarely encountered, since few lived nearby. The most important nobleman for the families of Oppenwehe was Baron von der Horst, who maintained a stately mansion in the nearby village of Haldem and who was, among other things, provost of Stift Levern and therefore also their landlord. Fortunately for the Priesmeyers, the baron had many other responsibilities and was not often in town, although his agents were ever-present.

 

It should not be imagined, however, that life was idyllic. Variable weather caused periodic famines, and once every twenty years or so an epidemic of smallpox or dysentery wiped out a large portion of the children and vulnerable old people. Tuberculosis and other bronchial disorders were the scourge of everyone. Medicine was primitive at best, and chronic disabilities were widespread. While midwives were usually quite effective in managing routine pregnancies, a significant number of women died in childbirth. The wooden structures of the village, many of them roofed with thatch, were notoriously vulnerable to fire, and large sections of the village were periodically destroyed in conflagrations.

 

One feature of peasant culture must be understood as we learn about the Priesmeyers, and this is the impact of inheritance on naming practices. In pre-modern northwest Germany surnames were employed unusually (in our eyes). Whereas in our culture the surname of the father is normally taken by his wife and children, in the region including Oppenwehe the surname of the family and their offspring was determined instead by rules of inheritance. Farms were normally indivisible, and ultimogeniture was the custom: that is, all things being equal, the youngest son would inherit the entire farm, and his siblings would receive endowments to facilitate their marrying into other land-holding families. Interestingly, however, the custom was very loosely enforced, and in about a quarter of instances it was a daughter who inherited.

 

Because the undivided farm was so important to the family through succeeding generations, the surname assumed by the new generation was that of the heir; if this was a daughter, her bridegroom assumed her surname, and thus it was passed on to their offspring. He retained her surname even if she died and he remarried, since it was the name of the farm, which he still held. Likewise, the widow of a male heir would confer the surname associated with the farm on her new husband, if she remarried. Finally, if a farm fell vacant because there was no suitable heir in a particular generation, the family chosen to take over the farm would adopt the surname associated with the farm. This custom produces, to the untrained eye, a peculiar-looking family tree, in which surnames appear to change at random from generation to generation. But behind it is always the continuity of the farm name.

 

 

THE DAWN OF THE MODERN AGE

 

The population of Oppenwehe and the surrounding area remained relatively stable for the first half of the 18th century. Natural population growth was constrained by periodic epidemics of smallpox and, especially, of dysentery, with two major outbreaks, in 1719 and 1748. But then a steady upward trend began, facilitated by two significant developments: the introduction of smallpox inoculation and the acceptance of the potato as a worthy substitute for bread. The abatement of smallpox naturally enabled a larger proportion of children to survive to adulthood, and the potato, which was roughly five times more nutritionally productive per acre than grains, provided the food to keep the growing population alive.

 

Still, limited resources, especially land, would have kept a brake on household formation by restraining permissions to marry. But a simultaneous development during this period opened the way for families without land to earn enough to support themselves. This was the rapidly growing worldwide market for German linen. Peasant families working in their own homes found that they could spin and weave locally grown flax into high quality fabric that was in great demand, especially in France and in the expanding colonies in the Americas. Local markets (Legge) were established that enabled families to bring their linen for sale and receive compensation in cash. Simultaneously, this infusion of cash into the economy in general also promoted growth.

 

These three factors -- smallpox inoculation, the potato, and linen weaving -- facilitated a doubling of the north German population between 1750 and 1850. Significantly, while the number of Coloni (land holding) families remained fairly constant through the 1830s, the number of landless families mushroomed. The ratio of landless to landed families had been around 1 in 10 in 1730, but by 1830 their numbers were nearly equal. Concealed by this growth, however, were the inherent hardships of the landless. Linen prices fluctuated widely, as did the cost of food, and landless families had limited resources to fall back on. They continued to hire out their labor in the fields of their landed neighbors, but their growing numbers inevitably eroded the compensation they could receive. Even the annual trek to the Netherlands taken by many young men to work on the farms there often could not make up the difference. Parish relief funds, already heavily burdened, became their only recourse in hard times.

 

Then, in the late 1840s, a series of poor harvests placed increasing pressure on everyone. Finally, in 1851, after the opening of the railway from Minden to Cologne, a large mechanized linen spinning mill was constructed in the nearby town of Bielefeld, and the bottom fell out of the market. Landless families who had barely survived by spinning and weaving were driven to the wall.

 

 

THE GREAT 19TH CENTURY EMIGRATION

 

Faced with troubling changes in their environment and dwindling economic resources, landless peasants throughout Germany began to seek opportunity elsewhere. Those who lived close to growing cities migrated there and took jobs in the new manufacturing industries. But those in more isolated areas, like Oppenwehe, began to look abroad and especially to America. Even the poorest were literate, having been taught to read in the parish schools, which they had been required to attend until age fourteen. They read glowing accounts of the New World, such as those of the widely-read author Gottfried Duden, who had operated a farm in Missouri in the 1820s. In 1827 he wrote an irresistible summary of his impressions of America:

 

The great fertility of the soil, its immense area, the mild climate, the splendid river connections, the completely unhindered communication in an area of several thousand miles, the perfect safety of person and property, together with very low taxes -- all these must be considered as the real foundations for the fortunate situation of Americans.

 

Duden thus captured the contrast between life in Germany, where land was expensive (and sometimes unobtainable at any price) and wages were low, and life in America, where land was abundant and inexpensive and labor was in demand. Simultaneously, local and state governments in America, seeking to attract industrious settlers on the expanding frontier, published brochures and commissioned recruiters in Germany. Merchants, who were then importing cotton and other raw materials from America and sending ships back only partly loaded, learned that they could fill their holds with emigrants by offering attractive fares. When the seaports of northern Germany, particularly Hamburg and Bremen, observed the prosperity that was accruing to the French and Dutch ports as they served transiting emigrants, they moved quickly to invest in infrastructure and dispatched agents to encourage departing families to choose them for their voyage.

 

During the nineteenth century, nearly five million Germans came to live in America. After 1845 yearly totals usually exceeded 100,000, except for the years of the U.S. Civil War. Both individuals and families came, and with rare exceptions their motives were entirely economic: to escape the dwindling opportunities in their homeland to earn their share of the prosperity of the growing nation. They were usually not entirely destitute but rather had carefully husbanded their resources in Germany and came with enough money to get started, whether in a town or on a farm. In general, they were devoted to family and community, calmly religious, frugal, industrious, and reasonably well educated. Their goals were markedly conservative: they hoped to recreate the world that they believed that their grandparents had enjoyed -- of small subsistence farms and trades owned and operated by self-sufficient, independent families. Wage labor, if unavoidable, was considered a temporary step on the way to saving, investment, and independence. Once established, they wrote to family and friends still in Germany and encouraged them to join them. Whole communities in the Midwest and Texas consisted of families who had grown up as neighbors in Germany.

 

This is the classic story of the great German immigration to America in the nineteenth century. As we will see in the following section, it describes an important portion of the Priesmeyers, primarily those who settled in Texas. But the majority of the Priesmeyer immigrants were evidently moved by a somewhat different set of considerations. While they too sought the comparative benefits of the expanding American economy, they were not drawn to the conservative vision of a life devoted to the rural environment and farming. Instead, they chose to settle in the rapidly growing cities of the Midwest, primarily St. Louis. Their goal was not to accumulate the resources to purchase a farm but rather to explore their opportunities in the urban environment, first as craftsmen and laborers and then as investors in their own businesses. While they remained conservative in their devotion to family, religion, and community, their economic outlook was distinctly progressive.

 

While we cannot know for certain why so many Priesmeyer immigrants chose to settle and work in cities, one key factor in their background may explain most of their motivation. As we will see below, the dominant figure in the development of the branch of Oppenwehe 47 -- which was the source of over half of the immigrants -- was Johann Friedrich Priesmeyer, who headed the family from 1789 to 1835. The records describe a man of considerable ambition and talent who not only expanded his farm but built an inn in Oppenwehe that became the center of village social life and who may have engaged in other commercial activities as well. When it became generally possible, after the land reforms of the early nineteenth century, for peasant families to purchase their farms outright from their landlords, Johann Friedrich was evidently one of the first to do so. Twenty years after his death, his grandson was able to sell the family farm and purchase the handsome estate of the semi-noble Meyer-Bening family in neighboring Oppendorf for the impressive sum of 7,660 talers, of which 1,450 was in gold -- at a time when a typical farm laborer in Germany might earn no more than sixty talers a year.

 

It is quite likely that Johann Friedrich’s descendants were influenced by his example and may have been attracted to commerce by their involvement in the family businesses. Most important, it is evident that Johann Friedrich began a family custom of requiring his non-inheriting sons and grandsons to receive training in a non-agricultural skill, such as shoemaking, baking, bricklaying, or retailing. In effect, they were introduced to the requirements and skills of the modernizing economy well before their peers.

 

Twenty male descendants of Johann Friedrich Priesmeyer emigrated to America between 1848 and 1923, nineteen of whom lived long enough to establish themselves in their occupations. Twelve settled in or near St. Louis, three in Cleveland, two in Chicago, one in Fort Wayne, and one in Garwood, Texas (after settling initially in St. Louis). Only one took up farming, near St. Louis. The others, having typically begun as common laborers, ultimately established themselves as manufacturers, wholesalers, merchants, grocers, and retailers. Several amassed considerable wealth and became pillars of the community.

 

St. Louis held a special attraction for these industrious immigrants. Drawn by the commentary of Gottfried Duden in the 1820s, as noted above, Germans flocked to the growing city. With just 25,000 inhabitants in 1840, it tripled in population over the next ten years; half of the increase consisted of German immigrants. As noted by historian Walter Kamphoefner,

 

Since mid-century St. Louis was a booming Mississippi Valley metropolis, an industrial town (iron, lead, zinc, shoes, beer) as well as a center of trade and transportation. . . . Much like Milwaukee, St. Louis had been regarded as a “German” city. . . . In 1880 St. Louis, with a population of 351,000 the fifth-largest city in the United States, listed 55,000 German-born inhabitants, and including the second generation, Germans made up about one-third of the total population. . . . German immigrants and their children made a significant contribution to this commercial growth. . . . Germans remained intellectual and cultural leaders well into the twentieth century.

 

As the following family stories reveal, the immigrants who settled in St. Louis and other cities acclimatized and modernized rapidly, while their farming cousins in Texas remained true to rural traditions and values for at least another generation if not more. Most notably, the urban Priesmeyers had fewer children, who resided longer with their parents, married late, and themselves had small families. They often gave their children anglicized names and were willing to explore their options in the diverse religious environment of their new country. By contrast, the rural Priesmeyers married early and had large numbers of children, whom they gave traditional German names. They normally remained faithful to their Lutheran faith for several generations unless they married someone of a different religion, especially a Roman Catholic.

 

Consequently, while the branch of Oppenwehe 47 provided more than half of the male immigrants, who quickly urbanized, their descendants today make up a relatively small part of the Priesmeyers living in America. Instead, well over half of today’s Priesmeyers descend from just two young brothers, born in poverty a few miles from Oppenwehe, who settled in east Texas (El Campo and Moulton) in 1860 and took up farming. Although they too were descendants of Oppenwehe 47, their line had broken away 150 years earlier and had become landless and poor. By the time the two branches -- one prosperous, one struggling -- encountered each other in America, they had lost all memory of their common origin. All they shared was their name.

 

 

PRIESMEYER IMMIGRANTS TO AMERICA

 

The following sections explore the fortunes of the various immigrant Priesmeyer branches. You may wish to skip ahead to your own branch, but it is hoped that you will also enjoy reading about the experiences of your cousins in the other branches. Because the narrative may be difficult to follow, especially if you are seeking your own ancestor, two summary aids have been prepared. The first is a list of all 46 immigrants in the order of their year of departure from Germany, with their dates and locations of birth, marriage, and death. Particularly helpful may be the entry immediately after the full German name that gives the name that the immigrant used in America, which was often anglicized. The second aid is a summary chart of the various Priesmeyer branches and their ultimate destinations in America. Please contact the author if you need assistance.

 

 

The Priesmeyers of Oppenwehe 47: the Midwest, and Garwood, Texas

 

The first generation on the new farm at Oppenwehe 47 exemplified the struggles of the family as they established themselves. Heinrich Priesmeyer and his wife Anne Alheit Hilmer, who married in 1665, began with a very small plot, as we saw above in Thomas Priesmeyer’s 1662 marriage addendum. Yet they laid a solid foundation for future generations by adding steadily to their holdings. Their primary task was to ensure a successful transition to the next generation, and they chose their oldest son, Johann Heinrich, born in 1668, to be their heir. He took over the farm at the time of his marriage, in 1692, to Catharine Elisabeth Battenhorn of Rahden, permitting his parents to retire to a cottage near the family home.

 

Or at least that was the plan. As it turned out, the erstwhile retirees were not happy with their son and his new wife. In November 1692 they submitted an agreement to their landlord in Levern:

 

Whereas Heinrich Priesmeyer of Oppenwehe and his wife Anne Alheit [Hilmer] recently handed over their small farm to their son Johann Heinrich and his wife Catharine Elisabeth Battenhorn, but they now find that they cannot reconcile and agree with them, they have today reserved for themselves the following instead of retiring:

1. The rye field to the west of the house;

2. A cabbage patch in the garden in Martin Holle’s field;

3. An average-size cow;

4. A breeding goose, which, along with the cow, the young couple will feed and care for;

5. ____ The great kettle to be reserved for their use as often as it might be needed, without any objection or impediment;

6. It is agreed and decided that the other two sons and three daughters, rather than awaiting their inheritance, will each immediately have fifteen talers, a half-bed, and a tankard; the youngest son will have an additional five talers because of his renunciation [of his traditional right to inherit the farm]; each daughter will have a pillow; and each child will have his marriage fee or release from his landlord. Since one of the daughters, Christine Margarethe, is somewhat sickly and may not marry, in such case she will be permitted to help with housework according to her capacity and will be provided with room and board.

Everyone was satisfied with this agreement and promised to live in peace and harmony.

 

As can be seen from this document, the parents did as much as they could for their other five marriageable children. While they were all eventually married to farm heirs -- no small achievement, given their relatively modest marital endowments -- the farms were small and were located in Levern, several miles to the south, and all of the children were over thirty before a suitable match could be found. In the case of their youngest daughter, who did not marry until the age of thirty-eight, her husband was an elderly widower with children, and she never had children of her own. Of particular importance for our narrative was the fate of their son Gerd Heinrich, born in 1670, who in 1704 married Agnese Platine Engelken, heir to her family’s farm at Levern 44. It is from this marriage that the Priesmeyers of El Campo and Moulton, Texas, descend, and we will return to them in the section on that branch.

 

The next generation at Oppenwehe 47, led, as we saw above, by heir Johann Heinrich Priesmeyer, born in 1668, continued the development of the farm, but finding spouses for the children remained a challenge. Apart from the heir, Johann Hermann, born in 1697, the other three surviving children married to small farms at a relatively advanced age. Then, with Johann Hermann’s generation, misfortune befell the line. He took over the farm in 1723, at the time of his marriage, but he lived barely five more years, leaving his widow and a daughter, Marie Catharine, born in 1729 after his death, who became by default the eventual heir to the farm. In 1753 Marie Catharine married Hermann Heinrich Marcus of Oppenwehe 46, and they took over the farm at that time. In accordance with regional custom, Hermann Heinrich assumed the Priesmeyer surname, and thus it was passed on to their descendants. It is evident that the farm prospered under their management; their three surviving children all married well, including their chosen heir, Johann Friedrich, born in 1764.

 

Johann Friedrich Priesmeyer began a new and impressive era in the history of Oppenwehe 47. At the time of his marriage in 1789, he was a soldier, in the 2nd battalion of the Prussian Royal Grenadier Guard in Potsdam. After military service, he returned to Oppenwehe and assumed control of the family farm. In addition to increasing his landholdings, he  established an inn and tavern, which became the center of community life in Oppenwehe. We can be certain that his wife, Marie Elisabeth Röhling of Oppenwehe 29, was just as remarkable, having supported his endeavors while giving birth to ten children, including a set of triplets and a set of twins. (Unfortunately, the churchbook says relatively little about the women of the parish.) When Johann Friedrich died, in 1835, the pastor noted prominently in the churchbook that Johann Friedrich had been a “churchwarden, businessman, and farm holder.” Most important for our story, twenty-seven of his direct descendants emigrated to America -- over half of all Priesmeyers to depart Germany -- and several of them became prominent and wealthy, as we’ll see.

 

The next generation was headed by Johann Friedrich’s and Marie Elisabeth’s son, Christian Friedrich, born in 1801. With his generation, conditions had begun to change rapidly in the region. Land reforms were leading to consolidation of peasant farms and enclosure of common pasturage, undermining the traditional structures of subsistence farming and reducing the amount of available land for new farms. But the population continued to grow, and opportunities to establish traditional landholding marriages and households steadily diminished. While Christian Friedrich was able to provide the well-established family farm to his chosen heir, Christoph Friedrich Wilhelm, born in 1830, his four other surviving sons all emigrated, among the earliest of the Priesmeyers to leave Oppenwehe for America:

 

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1825

Emigrated in 1848, probably to Cincinnati

Evidently died shortly after arrival in America

 

Johann Christoph Gottlieb Priesmeyer, born in 1827

Emigrated in 1848 to Cincinnati and settled in St. Louis

Occupation: bricklayer

Married Caroline Wilhelmine Henriette Spreen of Westrup in 1851

Child:

Heinrich Friedrich Priesmeyer, born in 1856 in St. Louis

 

Heinrich Wilhelm August Priesmeyer, born in 1832

Emigrated in 1849 to Cincinnati and settled in St. Louis

Occupation: shoemaker, then major shoe manufacturer

Married Caroline Steinbrügge of Hannover in 1860

Child:

Edward Priesmeyer, born in 1867 in St. Louis (died in 1871)

 

Johann Friedrich Carl Priesmeyer, born in 1838

Emigrated in 1857 to St. Louis

Occupation: confectioner

Married Louise Steinbrügge of Hannover in 1865

Children:

Charles J. Priesmeyer, born in 1867 in St. Charles, Missouri

Alvina Priesmeyer, born in about 1868 in St. Charles, Missouri

August E. Priesmeyer, born in 1870 in St. Louis

Ida Priesmeyer, born in 1872 in St. Louis

 

Christian Friedrich’s brother, Johann Heinrich, born in 1790, married in 1818 and founded a small new farm in Oppenwehe, which was given the number 70. Three of his five surviving children emigrated to America:

 

Carl Friedrich Wilhelm August Priesmeyer, born in 1824

Emigrated in 1854 to St. Louis and settled in Chicago

Occupation: baker

Married Margarethe Wolf of Hesse Darmstadt in 1860

Children:

Edward August Gottlieb Priesmeyer, born in 1861 in St. Louis

Emma Priesmeyer, born in about 1866 in Chicago

Augusta Priesmeyer, born in 1870 in Chicago

Anna Priesmeyer, born in 1871 in Chicago

Albert A. Priesmeyer, born in 1873 in Chicago

Matilda Priesmeyer, born in 1877 in Chicago

Hattie Priesmeyer, born in about 1880 in Chicago

Dollie Priesmeyer, born in 1883 in Chicago

Doris B. Priesmeyer, born in about 1887 in Chicago

 

Heinrich Friedrich Priesmeyer, born in 1831

Emigrated in 1851 to St. Louis

Occupation: grocer, then chemical merchant

Married Anne Marie Gaus of Prussia in 1860

Children:

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1860 in St. Louis

Christian Julius Priesmeyer, born in 1863 in St. Louis

Matilda Anna Priesmeyer, born in 1865 in St. Louis

 

August Friedrich Gottlieb Priesmeyer, born in 1834

Emigrated in 1852 to St. Louis and settled in Chicago

Occupation: grocer, teamster, policeman, coal merchant

Married Christine Wolff of Hesse in 1860

Children:

August Gustave Priesmeyer, born in 1860 in St Louis

August Heinrich Priesmeyer, born in 1861 in Chicago

Johann Friedrich Priesmeyer, born in 1863 in Chicago

George Louis Priesmeyer, born in 1868 in Chicago

Mary Priesmeyer, born in 1869 in Chicago

Frank Adam Priesmeyer, born in 1872 in Chicago

Emma Priesmeyer, born in 1878 in Chicago

Charles Priesmeyer, born in about 1880 in Chicago

Emily H. Priesmeyer, born in about 1882 in Chicago

Lillian Priesmeyer, born in 1883 in Chicago

 

Another of Christian Friedrich’s brothers, Johann Christoph, born in 1796, founded a small new farm in the neighboring village of Oppendorf, which was given the number 107. Of his eight surviving children, five emigrated to America:

 

Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1821

Emigrated in 1848 to Cincinnati and settled in St. Louis

Occupation: bricklayer

Married Anne Marie Kicke of Westphalia in 1852

Children:

Heinrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1856 in St. Louis

Caroline Priesmeyer, born in about 1858 in St. Louis

 

Louise Charlotte Friederike Priesmeyer, born in 1826

Emigrated in 1846 to St. Louis

Married Johann Christoph Schumacher of Westrup in 1846

 

Marie Wilhelmine Caroline Priesmeyer, born in 1928

Emigrated in 1852 to St. Louis

Married Gerhard Heinrich Luke of Germany in 1853

 

Charlotte Wilhelmine Henriette Priesmeyer, born in 1830

Emigrated in 1847 to St. Louis and settled in Quincy, Illinois

Married Dietrich Schmidt of Germany in 1849 and then Franz Heinrich Wittler of Hannover in 1853

 

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1835

Emigrated in 1852 to St. Louis

Occupation: farmhand, then laborer

Married Louisa Knepper of Hannover in 1868

Children:

Amalia Priesmeyer, born in about 1869 in St. Louis

Frederick W. Priesmeyer, born in 1873 in St. Louis

 

Yet another brother of Christoph Friedrich, Friedrich Wilhelm, born in 1798, acquired an existing farm at Oppendorf 99. Six of his eight surviving children emigrated to America:

 

Christoph Wilhelm August Priesmeyer, born in 1832

Emigrated in 1850 to St. Louis

Occupation: butcher

Married Elizabeth of Missouri in about 1854

Children:

Caroline Priesmeyer, born in about 1855 in St. Louis

William H. Priesmeyer, born in 1859 in St. Louis

Lena Priesmeyer, born in about 1863 in St. Louis

Henry E. Priesmeyer, born in 1866 in St. Louis

Edward T. Priesmeyer, born in 1874 in St. Louis

 

Henriette Wilhelmine Caroline Priesmeyer, born in 1838

Emigrated in 1859 and settled in Staunton, Illinois

Married Wilhelm Meyer of Braunschweig in 1862

 

Christoph Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1842

Emigrated in 1867 and settled in Madison County, Illinois

Occupation: farmer

Married Sophia Bartmann of Prussia in 1874

Children:

Henriette Louise Caroline Priesmeyer, born in 1875 in Staunton, Illinois

Anne Christine Caroline Priesmeyer, born in 1878 in Staunton, Illinois

Ernst Carl William Priesmeyer, born in 1880 in Madison County, Illinois

Fredericka Priesmeyer, born in 1882 in Madison County, Illinois

Mathilda Sophia Priesmeyer, born in 1883 in Madison County, Illinois

Lydia Priesmeyer, born in 1887 in Madison County, Illinois

Frederick Priesmeyer, born in 1895 in Madison County, Illinois

 

Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1844

Emigrated in 1866 to St. Louis

Occupation: coal merchant

Married Christine Schumacher of Westphalia in 1874

Children:

Anne Henriette Priesmeyer, born in 1874 in St. Louis

Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1876 in St. Louis

Mathilde Wilhelmine Caroline Priesmeyer, born in 1878 in St. Louis

Caroline Priesmeyer, born in 1881 in St. Louis

Charles S. Priesmeyer, born in 1884 in St. Louis

 

Henriette Wilhelmine Caroline Priesmeyer, born in 1845

Emigrated in 1860 and settled in Staunton, Illinois

Married Heinrich Wilhelm Hiffmann of Westphalia in 1864

Eight children

 

Heinrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1847

Emigrated in 1866 to St Louis

Occupation: chemical merchant

Married Anne Marie Gaus (widow of his cousin Heinrich Friedrich Priesmeyer) in 1872

Child:

Frederick W. Priesmeyer, born in about 1872 in St. Louis

 

In summary, from the pivotal household of Johann Friedrich Priesmeyer and Marie Elisabeth Röhling at Oppenwehe 47, eighteen grandchildren emigrated to America between 1846 and 1866 -- all of them first cousins, and all of them settled in or near St. Louis or in Chicago.

 

Continuing on to the following generations of the main-line lineage of Oppenwehe 47: the next heir to the farm was Christoph Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1830, who married Charlotte Wilhelmine Buck of Oppenwehe 69 in 1850. The farm continued to prosper under his management, and in 1854 he sold the property and purchased the handsome Meyer-Bening estate at Oppendorf 97, whose semi-noble owners had departed for America. We can sense the self-confidence and prosperity of Christoph Friedrich Wilhelm and his family in their photo, taken in about 1894. The farm was passed on to their heir, Bernhard Heinrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1871, who also appears in the photo with his wife and young children. One of Bernhard Heinrich Wilhelm’s brothers emigrated to America:

 

Carl Christian Friedrich Priesmeyer, born in 1854

Emigrated in 1872 to St. Louis and eventually settled in Indianapolis

Occupation: shoe salesman, then bookkeeper

Married Clotilde Zuendt of Wisconsin in 1881

Children:

Irma Jeanette Priesmeyer, born in 1882 in Missouri

Venita C. Priesmeyer, born in 1884 in Jefferson City, Missouri

Alice Priesmeyer, Born in 1887 in St. Louis

Jeanette Mildred Priesmeyer, born in 1889 in Missouri

William Albert Priesmeyer, born in 1892 in Missouri

 

Another of Bernhard Heinrich Wilhelm’s brothers, Christian Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1856, married Henriette Wilhelmine Caroline Schröder, heir to her family’s farm at Oppendorf 21. Four of their five surviving children emigrated to America:

 

Christian Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1878

Emigrated in 1893 to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and eventually settled in Texas

Occupation: laborer, then real estate agent

Married Emma Helen Weimar of Dashwood, Ontario, in 1909

Children:

Carl W. Priesmeyer, born in 1910 in Allen County, Indiana

William Weimar Priesmeyer, born in 1912 in Rock Island, Texas

Cordelia Priesmeyer, born in 1916 in San Antonio, Texas

 

Henriette Caroline Wilhelmine Priesmeyer, born in 1883

Emigrated in 1905 to Bangor, Pennsylvania; then to Rock Island, Texas; and eventually settled in Norwalk, California

Married John M. Bender in about 1908

Without children

 

Heinrich Friedrich Priesmeyer, born in 1885

Emigrated in 1901 to St. Louis and settled in Garwood, Texas

Occupation: shoe salesman, then proprietor of a chain of general stores

Married Clara Marie Beck in 1910

Children:

Edward William Priesmeyer, born in 1911 in Rock Island, Texas

Alice Wilhelmina Anna Priesmeyer, born in 1913 in Yoakum, Texas

Frederick Beck Priesmeyer, born in 1921 in Garwood, Texas

William Xavier Priesmeyer, born in 1922 in Garwood, Texas

 

Wilhelmine Louise Priesmeyer, born in 1897

Emigrated in 1923 to Houston, Texas

Married Henry A. Schade in 1928

 

Along another line originating at Oppenwehe 47, we have already seen above that Johann Christoph Priesmeyer, born in 1796, established a new farm at Oppendorf 107 and sent five children to America. His son Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1824, inherited the farm in 1848. From his three marriages, three children emigrated to America:

 

Christoph Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1849

Emigrated in 1864 to Cleveland

Occupation: grocer

Married Rosina Hermann of Bavaria in 1875

Without children

 

August Christoph Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1865

Emigrated in 1881 to Cleveland

Occupation: butcher and grocer

Married Wilhelmine Huy of Cleveland in 1889

Children:

Irene M. Priesmeyer, born in 1892 in Cleveland

Walter C. Priesmeyer, born in 1894 in Cleveland

 

Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1868

Emigrated in 1882 to Cleveland and eventually settled in Randolph County, Missouri

Occupation: pharmacist

Married Bee Elliott of Missouri in 1896

Child:

Friederika Priesmeyer, born in Missouri in 1901

 

In the next generation at Oppendorf 107, the heir, August Friedrich Wilhelm, born in 1873, sent one child to America, who was the last of all the Priesmeyer emigrants:

 

Carl Theodor Priesmeyer, born in 1905

Emigrated in 1923 to Cleveland

Occupation: salesman, then branch manager for a beer importer

Married Dorothy Esther Zielke of Cleveland in 1931

Children:

Ellen Louise Priesmeyer, born in about 1937 in Cleveland

Carla Priesmeyer, born in 1939 in Cleveland

 

Today the main Priesmeyer lineage of Oppenwehe 47/Oppendorf 97 (modern address Oppendorfer Strasse 1) -- having sent 27 descendants to America, more than half of all Priesmeyer immigrants -- is represented in Germany by Gerhard Bernhard Carl Priesmeyer, born in 1948. He is the 7th great grandson of Heinrich Priesmeyer and Anne Alheit Hilmer, who founded the farm in 1665, and thus represents the tenth generation in continuous occupation of the estate. Gerhard and his wife Brigitte have converted the family farm into a theme resort, with an inn, animal rides, nature walks, a petting zoo, and catered events, and they look forward to visits by their American counsins!

 

Yet the descendants of this main branch do not today comprise the largest group of Priesmeyers in America. That distinction is held by the branch (also originating at Oppenwehe 47) that we will consider next, that of El Campo and Moulton, Texas. This branch sent only two emigrant brothers to America, in 1860, yet today its descendants substantially outnumber those of the Midwest branch. Why? Because most of the 27 immigrants of the main Oppenwehe 47 branch settled in cities and urbanized quickly. They had small families, and their children married late and also had small families. By contrast, the El Campo and Moulton immigrants were struggling farmers who married early and had large families, as did their children and grandchildren.

 

 

The Priesmeyers of Oppenwehe 47: El Campo and Moulton, Texas

 

The most numerous of the Priesmeyer branches in America today also has the most distinctive history. It was the earliest lineage -- by more than a century -- to fall from the land-holding class of peasants into the ranks of poor, landless day-laborers. Its subsequent experiences provide a clear example of the great difference in the lives of these two main agricultural classes of northwest Germany.

 

We have already seen that Heinrich Priesmeyer and Anne Alheit Hilmer founded a new farm at Oppenwehe 47 in 1665 and that they selected their oldest son, Johann Heinrich, born in 1668, to inherit the farm. Johann Heinrich’s younger brother, Gerd Heinrich, born in 1670, was left with just a small endowment to facilitate his search for a bride. Since he was not wealthy, he was undoubtedly fortunate to become engaged, at the relatively advanced age of 34, to Agnese Platine Engelken, just 19 years old and heir to her family’s small farm, number 44, in the nearby village of Levern. So slight were his resources that his more fortunate brother Johann Heinrich paid the required five taler fee to their landlord for his permission to marry, called the Weinkauf.

 

In accordance with regional custom, Gerd Heinrich adopted the Engelken surname at marriage, when he and his bride took possession of her farm. They had seven children between 1708 and 1726, all of whom survived to adulthood. Ultimately they passed their farm at Levern 44 to one of their older sons, Johann Heinrich, when he married in 1733, and then applied themselves, as did all good land-holding parents, to finding marriageable farm heirs for their other children. While they achieved some success in this effort, it is evident that they lacked the resources to feather the nests of all of their children.

 

Most important for our history, they were unable to provide a sufficient endowment to their son Christoph Friedrich, born in 1718. He evidently moved in his teens to the nearby village of Marl and worked as a day-laborer. When he finally married, in 1752 at the age of 34, it was to the daughter of a rootless day-laborer, Margarethe Engel Gerken, 22 years old (and ten weeks pregnant). At the time of their marriage, Christoph Friedrich made a significant and unusual decision: he chose to revert to his father’s surname, Priesmeyer, rather than retain the surname given to him at baptism, Engelken. Had he not done so, the sizeable Priesmeyer clan of El Campo and Moulton today would instead be named Engelken.

 

Friedrich and Engel Priesmeyer (as they were called) established themselves in a laborer’s cottage in nearby Dielingen Parish, first in the village of Haldem and then at the Blumenhorst farm at Arrenkamp 13, finally settling at the Wellmann farm at Arrenkamp 11. Here they undoubtedly worked as day-laborers on nearby farms and, in their spare time, probably spun and wove linen. Although clearly at the bottom of the social and economic ladder, they were evidently devoted and industrious, building the resources to enable them to have and support seven children, all of whom -- remarkably -- survived to adulthood. What they could not afford to provide, however, was any marriage endowments for them. The resulting experiences of their children demonstrate the vast difference between the fortunes of land-holding peasants and those of poor laborers, like Friedrich and Engel Priesmeyer.

 

Four of their seven children were daughters, and all four were in their 30s before marrying landless laborers; more significant, among them they had a total of at least five children out of wedlock before their marriages. We can be sure that their parents were mortified by this behavior, but in the environment of rural 18th century Germany they, as a family living in poverty, could do little to discourage or prevent it. Their three sons were nearly as luckless as their daughters: only one succeeded in marrying and having children -- Johann Hermann, born in 1756 -- who carried on the line that led to the Priesmeyers of El Campo and Moulton.

 

Like his father, as a young man Johann Hermann Priesmeyer moved north to the nearby village of Marl, where he obtained work on the Fyhe farm, at Marl 7. At the age of nineteen he enlisted in the Hanoverian army and was a private in the 1st company, 2nd battalion, 2nd infantry regiment when, in June 1783, he was granted permission to leave the army. In 1779 he had married Anne Sophie Lucie Meyer of Marl, 24 years old and six weeks pregnant. (Interesting sidelight: Ms. Meyer provides, in her family tree, the earliest documented ancestor of all of the Priesmeyer branches: Eggert zum Mohr, born in about 1470 at Marl 6.) They had five children, only two of whom survived to adulthood.

 

In 1810 the older of the two children, Johann Friedrich, born in 1779, married Anne Marie Lucie Luther of Marl, and they settled in a laborer’s cottage; initially they had just one cow, one calf, two pigs, one gander, two geese, and no horses or beehives. In 1811, however, they received a bit of good luck: they were invited to take over the farm of the Buck family (1st cousins of Johann Friedrich’s wife) at number 18 in the neighboring village of Quernheim. Unfortunately, the farm was in bad condition, and they had to invest nearly 500 talers to restore the “dilapidated” house and to return the land to productivity. Here they had six children, four of whom survived to adulthood. Although they had a farm of their own, it was so small that they continued to work as day-laborers well into the 1830s to supplement their income. In 1827, they appealed to their pastor, in Lemförde, to hasten the confirmation of their daughter so that she could be done with schooling and instead care for her younger siblings at home, since both parents had to be away during the day for work.

 

Nevertheless it is evident that the industriousness of the family enabled them gradually to build their farm at Quernheim 18. As their heir, Johann Friedrich and Anne Marie Lucie chose the younger of their two sons, Johann Friedrich, born in 1822, who continued to build the farm and in about 1875 passed it on to his heir. A map of 1870 shows that by that year several large plots of land had been added to the original holdings.

 

Their older son, Heinrich Georg Ludwig Priesmeyer, born in 1815, became a day-laborer in Quernheim. In 1841 he married Anne Sophie Louise Graeber of Quernheim, and they made their home for the next nineteen years in a laborer’s cottage on the property of the Nobbe family at Quernheim 5. By a stroke of good fortune, a photograph of this cottage was taken in about 1960, just before it was torn down, and the photograph has survived. It shows a thatched Fachwerk (half-timbered) structure illuminated by small windows. Its size is deceptive, since it housed both the family and their animals. The family lived in small rooms around the perimeter of the structure, while the animals occupied the main space in the center, topped by a loft for fodder.

 

In this cottage, Heinrich and Sophie had two sons, Hermann Friedrich Heinrich, born in 1842, and Heinrich Hermann Friedrich, born in 1845. The parents worked hard to make ends meet, often in difficult economic times; they worked in the fields and probably also spun and wove linen in their small home. Their sons attended school, and we know from their report cards that Heinrich was the better student (good in bible studies, very good in reading and writing).

 

By the early 1850s, however, after several bad harvests and the collapse of the market for handwoven linen, they were finding it progressively harder to survive. While they could have persisted and scraped by, as did many of their peers, they began to consider the possibility of going to America. Their interest was whetted by letters sent from recent emigrants from their area describing the opportunities in the United States. Most important, two of Sophie’s younger sisters, Charlotte and Louise, had already emigrated to Frelsburg, Texas, where they had married and established prosperous households. They undoubtedly wrote encouraging letters to Sophie, which evidently settled the matter.

 

As soon as son Heinrich was confirmed, in 1860, the family gathered together their possessions and departed for America. Because Heinrich was considered a potential inductee into the Hanoverian army and therefore normally prohibited from emigrating, their pastor prepared a transcript of his baptism record that declared that he was three years younger than his actual age, enabling the family to slip past government officials.

 

On September 20, 1860, the family of four boarded the brig “Weser” in Bremerhaven. They were accompanied by Henriette Köster, from the nearby village of Westrup, who would soon marry the older Priesmeyer son, Friedrich. They were also joined by their neighbors from Quernheim, Friedrich and Charlotte Meyer with their infant son Heinrich, who would eventually marry the Priesmeyers’ first grandchild, Sophie. After a nine week voyage they landed in Galveston, on November 23, and embarked on the arduous trek to Frelsburg, 130 miles to the west.

 

In 1860 Frelsburg was a prosperous German community that had been founded over twenty years earlier. It already had several hundred inhabitants, a post office, two churches, two general stores, two blacksmiths, a cobbler, and a cotton gin. The photograph reproduced here shows the main street in the 1800s, dominated by Trinity Lutheran Church, where the Priesmeyers’ sons would eventually be married. It’s likely that Sophie and the two boys reached Frelsburg by Christmas, but evidently Heinrich (the father) died soon after arriving in Galveston and may never have seen the promised land.

 

The family arrived at a difficult time in America. Just five months later the forces of the Confederacy bombarded Fort Sumter, and the country was embroiled in four years of bitter civil war. While son Heinrich avoided conscription by the Confederate army, Friedrich was not so fortunate. In June 1863 he was drafted and assigned to Company H of the 17th Texas Infantry, at Camp Terry, in Austin. While he probably missed the battle of Milliken’s Bend in that month, a Union victory in which the 17th suffered 86 casualties, he evidently was with his unit campaigning in Louisiana the following November, when he was taken prisoner by Union forces. Declaring himself a deserter from the Confederate army, Friedrich then enlisted (perhaps not entirely voluntarily) in Company A of the 1st Regiment of the New Orleans Infantry of the U.S. Army, which was evidently assigned mainly to garrison and guard duty in New Orleans. At the end of the War, in 1865, like so many soldiers he simply left for home and later in life was absolved of all charges of desertion.

 

The two brothers established themselves in Texas:

 

Hermann Friedrich Heinrich Priesmeyer, born in 1842

Emigrated in 1860 to Frelsburg, Texas; later lived in Moulton, Texas

Occupation: farmer

Married Henriette Wilhelmine Caroline Köster of Westrup in 1861

Children:

Henrietta Sophia Dorothea Priesmeyer, born in 1862 in Frelsburg

Maria Adolphina Bertha Priesmeyer, born in 1867 in Frelsburg

Heinrich Gerhard Daniel Priesmeyer, born in 1869 in Frelsburg

Friedrich Ignatz Gerhard Priesmeyer, born in 1871 in Frelsburg

Henrietta Charlotta Meta Priesmeyer, born in 1874 in Frelsburg

Wilhelm Friedrich Karl Priesmeyer, born in 1876 in Frelsburg

Heinrich Johann Priesmeyer, born in 1878 in Flatonia

Ida Louise Katharina Priesmeyer, born in 1862 in Moulton

 

Heinrich Hermann Friedrich (Henry) Priesmeyer, born in 1845

Emigrated in 1860 to Frelsburg, Texas; children settled in El Campo, Texas

Occupation: farmer

Married Adolphine Gerhardine Sophie Becker in 1870

Children:

August Friedrich Priesmeyer, born in 1870 in Frelsburg

Theodore Gerhardt Priesmeyer, born in 1872 in Frelsburg

Meta Priesmeyer, born in 1874 in Fayette County

Louisa Maria Sophia Priesmeyer, born in 1877 in Fayette County

 

The two brothers worked as tenant farmers and struggled to support their families. The character of their lives is captured in an anecdote told by Friedrich’s granddaughter, Henrietta Meyer: “When Sophie [Friedrich’s daughter, born in 1862] was seven years old her dad was a Texas trail driver delivering flour. He had four horses pulling the wagon and two rest horses following. He was constantly having a high fever. Sophie would go along and bathe his head with cool river water.”

 

Both brothers died young and without significant wealth. Friedrich’s widow struggled to support her large family in Moulton. While she was able to purchase a small plot of land that she let to sharecroppers, it is evident that her resources always remained small. Heinrich’s widow married Frederick Lillie, in whose household her four children were raised. Many of the brothers’ children had large families, and today their descendants account for over half of all Priesmeyers in America, even though they were just two of the 46 Priesmeyer emigrants who came to America.

 

Are there Priesmeyers living today at Quernheim 18? Unfortunately, no. The last heir to the farm, Friedrich Heinrich Hermann Priesmeyer, born in 1890, died after the second world war, and his widow and two daughters sold the farm and moved to Hameln. While there may well be cousins living in Hameln today, they would no longer be named Priesmeyer.

 

 

The Priesmeyers of Oppenwehe 3: Brenham, Texas

 

We last encountered Thomas Priesmeyer above, in the section on the origins of the family at Oppenwehe 3. He was the heir to the farm in 1662, when he married Marie Meyer of Oppenwehe 1. After her death in 1664, he married Anne Dorothee Grötemeyer of nearby Niedermehnen 24. Their son, Gerd Heinrich, born in 1672, inherited the farm at the time of his marriage, in about 1701, to Anne Margarethe Roemeyer of Oppenwehe 23.

 

Three generations later, a great grandson of Gerd Heinrich and Anne Margarethe, Berend Heinrich Priesmeyer, born in 1756, married Marie Catharine Hohlt of Wehdem 45 in 1780 and inherited the farm. After her death in 1807, he married Anne Marie Charlotte Hilmer of Oppendorf 41. A son of the second marriage, Johann Heinrich, born in 1810, married Marie Elisabeth Schmidt of Wehdem 87; one of their children eventually emigrated to America:

 

Charlotte Caroline Wilhelmine Priesmeyer, born in 1850

Emigrated in about 1872 and settled near Brenham, Texas

Married Johann Lehmann of Janovitz, Posen, in 1873

 

Another son of the second marriage, Johann Friedrich, born in 1820, married Wilhelmine Henriette Hagemeyer of Wehdem 34, with whom he had six children. In 1867, after he and five of their children had died, Henriette departed for America with her remaining child:

 

Heinrich Friedrich Christoph Priesmeyer, born in 1853

Emigrated in 1863 and settled near Brenham, Texas

Occupation: farmer

Married Charlotte Friederike Henriette Hüsemann of Oppenwehe in 1880

Children:

Louis Priesmeyer, born in 1882 near Brenham

Wilhelmina Priesmeyer, born in 1884 near Brenham

 

He then married Caroline Wilhelmine Henriette Kalkhake of Wehdem in 1887

Children:

Henry Priesmeyer, born in 1888 near Brenham

Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1890 near Brenham

Lydia Priesmeyer, born in 1892 near Brenham

Elizabeth D. Priesmeyer, born in 1896 near Brenham

Walter Priesmeyer, born in 1899 near Brenham

Meta Hulda Priesmeyer, born in 1904 near Brenham

George Otto Priesmeyer, born in 1907 near Brenham

 

A daughter of the first marriage of Berend Heinrich Priesmeyer, with Marie Catharine Hohlt, Sophie Henriette, born in 1791, was eventually chosen to inherit the farm, which she did in 1815, when she married Wilhelm Heinrich Engelbrecht of Westrup. Following the traditional custom in the area, Wilhelm Heinrich should then have adopted the Priesmeyer surname, but evidently because he was a descendant of a distinguished line of schoolmasters, he retained his own surname and thus passed it on to his descendants. One of their sons, Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Engelbrecht, born in 1829, married Marie Charlotte Menke of Oppenwehe; they emigrated with their children in 1869 and settled near Brenham, Texas. One of their grandsons, Heinrich Wilhelm Engelbrecht, born in 1843, emigrated to the Brenham area in 1860 and married Henriette Friederike Wilhelmine Winkelmann of Oppendorf; they eventually settled in Crawford, Texas. Both of these immigrants would have been surnamed Priesmeyer if the old naming customs had been applied in 1815 to the marriage of Sophie Henriette Priesmeyer and Wilhelm Heinrich Engelbrecht.

 

Today Oppenwehe 3, the original Priesmeyer farm, with the modern address of Oppenweher Strasse 9, is occupied by Herbert Engelbrecht, 9th great grandson of the earliest documented Priesmeyer on record, Heinrich, born in about 1570. The farm has thus been in continuous occupation by the Priesmeyer/Engelbrecht family for nearly 450 years, through twelve generations.

 

 

The Priesmeyers of Oppenwehe 50: Cincinnati and New York

 

We saw above that Gerd Heinrich Priesmeyer took over the new farm created for him by his parents in 1670, at the time that he married Margarethe auf dem Holze of Oppenwehe 21. Thus began five long-lived generations on the farm at Oppenwehe 50, although characterized by relatively small numbers of children.

 

A child of the fifth generation, Johann Heinrich Priesmeyer, born in 1792, married Margarethe Charlotte Bosse, who was the widow of the heir to the Lammert farm at Oppenwehe 18. Johann Heinrich thus became holder of the Lammert farm, although he retained his own surname, since by that time the old naming custom had changed. Two of his sons emigrated to America:

 

Christian Friedrich Priesmeyer, born in 1828

Emigrated in 1853 and evidently died soon after arrival

 

Johann Heinrich Priesmeyer, born in 1830

Emigrated in 1850 and settled in Brooklyn, New York

Occupation: laborer, then grocer

Married Anne of Prussia in about 1851.

Children:

George H. Priesmeyer, born in about 1852 in New York

Emma Priesmeyer, born in about 1864 in New York

Dora Priesmeyer, born in about 1866 in New York

John L. Priesmeyer, born in 1868 in New York

 

Another of his sons, Christian Friedrich Wilhelm, born in 1832, was unable to find the heir to a farm to marry, so he married a laborer’s daughter and became a laborer himself. He had two sons before his untimely death at the age of 32; both of them ultimately emigrated:

 

Berend Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1861

Emigrated in 1903 to Cincinnati

Occupation: laborer

Married Henriette Charlotte Caroline Weggehöft of Oppenwehe 71 in 1889

Children:

Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1889 at Oppenwehe by 50

Wilhelm Friedrich Priesmeyer, born in 1891 at Oppenwehe by 50

Wilhelmine Henriette Priesmeyer, born in 1898 at Oppenwehe 66

Wilhelmine Henriette Caroline Priesmeyer, born in 1900 at Oppenwehe 66

Caroline Priesmeyer, born in 1903 at Oppenwehe 66

Harry Priesmeyer, born in 1905 in Ohio

Luella Priesmeyer, born in about 1908 in Ohio

Albert Priesmeyer, born in about 1912 in Ohio

 

Johann Friedrich Priesmeyer, born in 1864

Emigrated in 1880 to Cincinnati

Occupation: gardener

Married Elizabeth Schulte of Ohio in 1888

Children:

Frederick Henry Priesmeyer, born in 1889 in Ohio

Louis William Priesmeyer, born in 1892 in Ohio

Minnie Priesmeyer, born in 1897 in Ohio

 

One more immigrant came from the line of Oppenwehe 50, but she was not genealogically a Priesmeyer. She descended from Johann Friedrich Bockhorn, who took over the Priesmeyer farm and assumed the surname in 1799 at the death of the father of the above Johann Heinrich Priesmeyer, born in 1792. Since Johann Heinrich’s brother, the heir in that generation, was childless, the farm eventually passed to a grandson of Bockhorn, one of whose children emigrated:

 

Marie Charlotte Henriette Priesmeyer, born in 1865

Emigrated in 1883, arriving in Baltimore

Ultimate outcome unknown

 

 

The Priesmeyers of Oppenwehe 53: Taylor, Texas

 

We have already seen the expansion of the original Priesmeyer domains in 1662, when Heinrich Mundt and Catharine Priesmeyer divided the old Priesmeyer estate at Oppenwehe 3 into three farms, making provision for each of their sons, Thomas, Heinrich, and Gerd Heinrich. But there was still one more farm to come.

 

Thomas Priesmeyer’s oldest son, Martin, born in 1664, was not chosen as heir to his father’s farm at Oppenwehe 3, so he followed an alternate and distinctive path to prosperity. At the age of eighteen he married an elderly widow -- at least forty years his senior -- who had been left a farm by her deceased husband and who had no children. Such marriages were not common, but they occurred occasionally, and it was understood in the community that the young husband would care for his wife and manage the farm for as long as she lived. In the event, Martin’s wife lived nearly thirty more years, and it was not until 1710 that he was able to marry a younger woman and have children of his own. In 1733 his first child, Gerd Heinrich, born in 1711, inherited the family’s new farm in Oppenwehe, which had been given the number 53. For the next seven generations the family prospered there, although the number of surviving children in each generation was small.

 

For American descendants of Oppenwehe 53, the most important event was the marriage in 1852 of Heinrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, a non-inheriting son born in 1826, to Marie Margarethe Charlotte Diekmann of Brockum, a village just to the west of Oppenwehe. They settled on the Diekmann farm at Brockum 80 and had ten children, four of whom emigrated to America:

 

Heinrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1856

Emigrated in 1877 to Williamson County, Texas

Occupation: farmer

Married Caroline Charlotte Henriette Tiemann of Oppendorf in 1879

Children:

Henry Richard Priesmeyer, born in 1879 in Brenham, Texas

Fritz William Priesmeyer, born in 1881 in Williamson County, Texas

Emma Priesmeyer, born in 1883 in Austin County, Texas

Edward Henry Priesmeyer, born in 1885 in Williamson County, Texas

Wilhelmina Priesmeyer, born in 1888 in Williamson County, Texas

Ida Priesmeyer, born in 1892 in Williamson County, Texas

Lydia Priesmeyer, born in 1897 in Williamson County, Texas

Andrew Fred Priesmeyer, born in 1900 in Williamson County, Texas

 

Christian Friedrich Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1859

Emigrated in 1880 to Williamson County, Texas

Occupation: farmer

Married Caroline Wilhelmine Henriette Henschen of Westrup in 1884

Children:

Adolph Carl Priesmeyer, born in 1888 in Austin County, Texas

Theodor H. Priesmeyer, born in 1893 in Austin County, Texas

Ida Priesmeyer, born in 1898 in Austin County, Texas

 

Caroline Henriette Engel Priesmeyer, born in 1863

Emigrated in about 1884 to Williamson County, Texas

Married Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Schwenker of Haldem in 1886

 

Carl Heinrich Priesmeyer, born in 1870, emigrated in 1888

Emigrated in 1888 to Williamson County, Texas

Occupation: farmer

Married Anna Louise Altus of Saxony in 1895

Children:

Helena Priesmeyer, born in 1896 in Williamson County, Texas

Frederick Priesmeyer, born in 1898 in Williamson County, Texas

Arthur John Priesmeyer, born in 1899 in Williamson County, Texas

 

As far as is known, they were the only offspring of Oppenwehe 53 to come to America. Their descendants now constitute a proud community based in Taylor, Texas, and they have published their own story on line.

 

Another child of this generation, Friedrich Heinrich Wilhelm, born in 1853, remained in Germany and settled in Brockum on farm number 18. Descendants of this line still live in the Brockum area and are actively involved in family history.

 

 

The Priesmeyers (Preasmeyer, Pruesmeyer) of Bonneberg:
Louisville, Kentucky

 

A branch unrelated to the Oppenwehe Priesmeyers is that of Louisville, Kentucky. This line originated in the village of Bonneberg, in Valdorf Parish, Westphalia. In the earliest records, the surname was actually Prüsner, but by about 1750 it had been altered to Prüssmeyer, evidently to distinguish the family from other Prüsner families in the parish.

 

In 1708, Johann Hermann Prüsner, heir to the family farm at Bonneberg 25, married Anne Hedwig Wittehus. Their great grandson, Johann Justus Friedrich Prüssmeyer, born in 1786, left Bonneberg and enlisted as a cannoneer in the Prussian Royal Artillery, stationed in the town of Minden. There he married Louise Margarethe Kohl of Petershagen, and they later settled in Petershagen. One of their sons, who wrote his surname as Priesmeyer or Preasmeyer, emigrated to America:

 

Carl August Priesmeyer, born in 1834 in Petershagen

Emigrated in 1860 to Louisville, Kentucky

Married Sophie Wilhelmine Caroline Marie Meyer of Petershagen in 1858

Children:

Charlotte Lina Sophie Priesmeyer, born in 1858 in Petershagen

Herman Albert Priesmeyer, born in 1861 in Louisville

Maria Lisette Friederike Auguste Priesmeyer, born in 1863 in Louisville

Heinrich Louis Priesmeyer, born in 1865 in Louisville

Wilhelmine Auguste Christine Priesmeyer, born in 1867 in Louisville

Louise Henriette Priesmeyer, born in 1869 in Louisville

Juliana Franziska Priesmeyer, born in 1871 in Louisville

Ella Priesmeyer, born in 1874 in Louisville

Alexander Priesmeyer, born in 1877 in Louisville

Anna Rebekka Priesmeyer, born in 1880 in Louisville

 

 

The Priesmeyers of Heddinghausen: Bond County, Illinois

 

Also not related to the Oppenwehe Priesmeyers is the lineage of Heddinghausen 9, in Holzhausen Parish, about twelve miles south of Oppenwehe. The antiquity of the farm suggests that it did not derive from Oppenwehe and that the similarity of the surnames is a coincidence. Even if there were a possibility of a connection before the beginning of written documents, the Heddinghausen line was itself cut off from its own Priesmeyer antecedents, so the descendants of the line are not genealogically Priesmeyers.

 

In 1730, the Priesmeyer heir of Heddinghausen 9 in that generation, Agnese Catharine, died young without producing a viable heir. Her widower, Jobst Hermann Klausing of Buer, Hannover, who had adopted the Priesmeyer surname at marriage, remarried and had a son, Caspar Heinrich, who eventually inherited the farm. A great grandson of Caspar Heinrich Priesmeyer came to America, evidently the only descendant of this line to emigrate:

 

Ernst Heinrich Priesmeyer, born in 1846 in Heddinghausen

Emigrated in 1882 and settled in Bond County, Illinois

Married Marie Louise Obermark of Buende in 1876

Children:

Louise Priesmeyer, born in 1877 in Heddinghausen

Johanne Friederike Elise Priesmeyer, born in 1879 in Heddinghausen

Henry Priesmeyer, born in 1882 in Illinois

Bernhard Priesmeyer, born in 1884 in Illinois

Emma Johanna Charlotta Priesmeyer, born in 1887 in Illinois

Wilhelmine Priesmeyer, born in 1889 in Illinois

Anna Priesmeyer, born in 1892 in Illinois

 

 

The Priesmeyers of Fischbeck: Morgan County, Missouri

 

A lineage that may have originated in Oppenwehe cannot now be connected, because it origins predated its first appearance in the written records, in Fischbeck, Hesse (in the modern state of Niedersachsen), about fifty miles southeast of Oppenwehe.

 

The earliest known ancestor of this line was Johann Cord Philip Priesmeyer, born in about 1707, who married Christine Sophie Peters in Fischbeck in about 1739. Their descendants lived for the following three generations in Fischbeck, and in about 1825 Heinrich Ernst Priesmeyer, born in 1803, left for Neersen, a village about fifteen miles to the south, near Bad Pyrmont in Niedersachsen. There he married Wilhelmine Dorothee Justine Jürgens in 1827, with whom he had eight children. After the death of his wife, in 1844, he married again, but in 1853, while still married, he had a son with unmarried Wilhelmine Caroline Catharine Wiedbrock.

 

In 1854, Heinrich and Wilhelmine, with their son, left Neersen for America and settled in Morgan County, Missouri. They evidently never married, probably because Heinrich could not conceal, upon investigation by their pastor, that he still had a wife in Germany:

 

Heinrich Ernst Priesmeyer, born in 1803 in Fischbeck

Emigrated in 1854 and settled in Morgan County, Missouri

Partner: Wilhelmine Caroline Catharine Wiedbrock (never married)

Children:

Heinrich Ernst Priesmeyer, born in 1853 in Neersen

Friedrich Priesmeyer, born in about 1856 in Morgan County, Missouri

Wilhelmine Caroline Margarethe Priesmeyer, born in about 1858 in Morgan County, Missouri

Ludwig Johann Priesmeyer, born in 1862 in Morgan County, Missouri

Gesche Margarethe Priesmeyer, born in 1864 in Morgan County, Missouri

Anna Catharina Priesmeyer, born in 1867 in Morgan County, Missouri

Louise Priesmeyer, born in 1870 in Morgan County, Missouri

 

 

The Priesmeyers of Hannover: Chicago and St. Louis

 

Three Priesmeyer immigrants came from the Kingdom of Hannover (the modern German  state of Niedersachsen), according to U.S. census data. While they may have been connected in some way to the Oppenwehe Priesmeyers, further research is rendered difficult by the fact that the church authorities of Niedersachsen have not permitted the microfilming of their records, so they cannot be studied except in archives in Germany. However, future research may discover a connection:

 

E.F. Wilhelm Priesmeyer, born in 1845 in Hannover

Emigrated in 1867 to Chicago

Married Wilhelmine Baegner of Prussia in 1872

Children:

Wilhelmina Priesmeyer, born in 1873 in Chicago

Charles Priesmeyer, born in 1885 in Chicago

Edward Priesmeyer, born in 1887 in Chicago

 

Charles T.F. Priesmeyer, born in 1860 in Hannover

Emigrated in 1880 to St. Louis

Married Friederike Naber of Hannover in 1880

Children:

Clara Priesmeyer, born in 1880 in St. Louis

Hulda Priesmeyer, born in 1882 in St. Louis

Louise Priesmeyer, born in 1885 in St. Louis

Paulina Priesmeyer, born in 1888 in St. Louis

 

Henry H. Priesmeyer, born in 1864 in Hannover

Emigrated in 1881 to St. Louis

Married first in about 1887 and second in about 1894 in Missouri

Children:

Adelia Louise Priesmeyer, born in 1888 in Missouri

Walter L. C. Priesmeyer, born in 1890 in Missouri

Selma F. Priesmeyer, born in 1896 in St. Louis

Clara C. Priesmeyer, born in 1899 in St. Louis

 

 

NOTABLE PRIESMEYERS IN AMERICA

 

Many of our Priesmeyer cousins achieved success pursuing the opportunities available to them in America, but several were especially noteworthy. The following sketches highlight those who were particularly prominent during their lives.

 

August Priesmeyer and the A. Priesmeyer Shoe Company

 

The most successful member of the first Priesmeyer generation in America was Heinrich Wilhelm August Priesmeyer, born in 1832 at Oppenwehe 47.  He was among the earliest of the immigrants, departing in 1849, one year after his older brothers Heinrich and Gottlieb. Like them, he settled initially in Cincinnati, where he first worked as a farmhand and then served a two-year apprenticeship to a shoemaker. Following this training he moved to St. Louis, as did his brothers, where he found employment in a shoe store. In 1857 he returned briefly to Germany and brought his younger brother Carl back to America with him.

 

In 1859 August opened a shoe store at Washington Avenue and Sixth Street in St. Louis. The following year he was recorded in the census as a shoemaker residing in the ninth ward of St Louis; living with him were his brothers Gottlieb and Carl as well as his cousin Gottlieb (born in 1834), who had immigrated in 1852. In 1860 he married Caroline Steinbrügge, a 21-year-old immigrant from Hannover. They had three children, two of whom died in infancy; the third, a son named Edward, died before his fifth birthday. Henceforth, August devoted his familial energies to his brothers and cousins and to their children.

 

Like many industrious Germans in St. Louis in the 1860s, August evidently benefited substantially from opportunities provided by the economic expansion during the U.S. Civil War. Following brief service with the Union army, he returned to shoemaking, and in 1869 he opened another shoe store, at Washington Avenue and Fourth Street, after an unsuccessful attempt at diversification into the hide and tobacco business. The following year, he was recorded as living in the eleventh ward of St. Louis and possessing real estate worth $10,000 and personal property worth $48,000 -- a substantial sum at that time. Living with him was his nephew Heinrich Friedrich (Henry F.), 13 years old, the only surviving child of his deceased brother Gottlieb. Henry F. was still living with August ten years later, as was August’s 12-year-old niece Alvina, daughter of his deceased brother Carl (whose widow was Louise Steinbrügge, sister of August’s wife).

 

In 1874 August moved to Jefferson City, where he opened a shoe factory, employing 35 workers, in partnership with F. Woesten, whom he bought out two years later. His motivation for the move is described in a recent history of Jefferson City:

 

Fiscal conservatism and local rule were key concepts enshrined in a new constitution adopted by Missouri citizens in 1875. One consequence of the effort to cut down on the amount of money needed to run state government was a renewed effort to force convicts to finance their own incarceration. Prison and governmental officials decided to have the state construct factories inside the prison walls and then negotiate multiyear contracts with private entrepreneurs for the use of convict labor. Governor John S. Phelps summarized the plan in his 1879 message to the General Assembly: “[I]t would seem reasonable to expect that the prisoners would not only be able, by their labor, to earn an amount sufficient to support themselves but also to pay the salaries and wages of the officers and guards.” This new prison factory system brought to Jefferson City a number of entrepreneurs who would not, under other circumstances, have chosen the city as a place to set up business. One of the first of these was August Priesmeyer, president and founder of the A. Priesmeyer Shoe Company, who moved to Jefferson City in 1874 to open a factory inside the prison walls. Priesmeyer managed the business largely with the help of his nephew, Henry F. Priesmeyer, and a Scottish immigrant named John Tweedie.

 

In 1891 August retired from active management and moved to 1537 South Grand Avenue in St. Louis. In 1899 he incorporated his shoe business, with himself as president, John Tweedie as vice president and factory superintendent, and his nephew Henry F. as secretary/treasurer. By that year, the factory employed 250 workmen as well as 18 salesmen, covering nearly all of the United States with the exception of the northeast.

 

In later life, August enjoyed his accumulated wealth, traveling twice to Europe in 1897 and also making a 14-month trip around the world, visiting Japan, China, India, Palestine, Syria, and Africa. He died in 1905, and his detailed will, which he drafted himself, reveals his ongoing involvement with his extended family, with bequests to numerous nephews, nieces, cousins, and inlaws, including several in Germany. He granted right of first refusal for the purchase of his shares of his company to John Tweedie, noting his “energy, faithfulness, good judgment, and pleasant association with me in the management of the business of said Shoe Company heretofore.” As his executors he appointed Tweedie and William H. Priesmeyer, his cousin and neighbor, born in 1847 (see below). His estate was valued at $200,000.

 

William H. Priesmeyer, Chemical Merchant

 

Another significant success story of the first generation of immigrants began with the 1851 arrival in St. Louis of Heinrich Friedrich (Henry F.) Priesmeyer, born in 1831 at Oppenwehe 70. In 1860 in married Anne Marie Gaus, a widow from Prussia, and in that year they were listed in the census, with Henry working as a grocer and Anne managing the boarding house in which they were living, with 26 other residents.

 

Like his prominent cousin August, whom we met above, Henry evidently benefited from opportunities offered by the U.S. Civil War. In 1864 he started a business packing and wholesaling chemicals and especially saltpeter, a constituent of gunpowder. To help him with the enterprise, in 1866 he brought to America his 1st cousin Heinrich Wilhelm (William H.) Priesmeyer, born in 1847 at Oppendorf 99. When Henry died, in 1870, leaving an estate of $20,000 in real property and $5,000 in personal property, William evidently took over the business. Two years later he married Henry’s widow Anne.

 

By 1880 William and Anne had successfully maintained the business and were living at 1001 Carr Street in St. Louis with their son Frederick and with Henry’s two children, Johann Heinrich Wilhelm (Henry John) and Matilda Anna. Within a few years they moved to 1541 South Grand Avenue, next door to August Priesmeyer (discussed above); it should be noted that August named William as co-executor of his estate and also left him “my large picture of Aurora,” probably a Romantic painting of a classical subject that William had admired.

 

In addition to the chemical wholesaling business that he had inherited from his cousin, William established and operated the Priesmeyer-Stevens Automobile Company and was a director of the German General Protestant Home.

 

William died in 1927, and his step-grandson, Ralph David Priesmeyer, who had known him as a boy, recalled that he “lived in a stuffy, formal, old world apartment on Grand Avenue. He had both an ornate music box and a cylinder gramophone and also a large gold watch with gold doors on each side for special engravings and pictures, all attached by a gold chain that draped across his vest to a gold pocket medallion.  He lived with his second wife Marguerite until he died, leaving everything to her with the exception of an old tenement building left to my father -- subsequently converted to a store for Dad’s business.” (Ralph David’s father was Rutherford John Priesmeyer, 1887-1978, son of  Henry John Priesmeyer.)

 

Henry F. Priesmeyer and the Priesmeyer Stores of Texas

 

A particularly engaging chapter in the saga of the first immigrant generation is the life of Heinrich Friedrich (Henry F.) Priesmeyer, born in 1885 at Oppendorf 21. In 1901 he arrived in St. Louis, where he lived for nine years. He had expected to apprentice himself to a baker, but his first job was as an elevator operator, after which he found employment as a traveling salesman with the Wertheimer-Swarts Shoe Company of St. Louis (perhaps with the help of his cousin August, the shoe magnate). In this role he was initially responsible for sales in the Midwest, but learning of the death of the company’s representative in Texas he applied for the position and moved there. In 1910 he settled in Colorado County, where he married Clara Marie Beck, daughter of a real estate broker from Ohio. As he later explained, he made Texas his home “as the climate appealed.”

 

From the beginning, Henry was notable for his energy and ambition. Starting in 1910 he joined with his older brother Christian Friedrich Wilhelm (William) in a series of investments in oil development rights in rural Texas and was still active as a “wildcatter” in the 1960s. He fancied himself an amateur geologist and over the years brought in several producing wells. In his 80s he wrote wistfully of his early days in the oil patch and reminisced over missed opportunities. But this was just an exciting sideline. To support his family, in 1917 he opened a general store in Garwood, Texas, which he named, appropriately, Priesmeyer’s Store. He eventually added three more stores in nearby communities, reinvesting all of his profits, and the business was successful. The store in Sweeny was his “newest and last,” he wrote, with $148,000 invested and a monthly payroll of over $1 million. A feature article in the Houston Post in 1983 reported from Garwood that,

 

Priesmeyer’s is mainly a western store now -- lots of jeans and hats and boots and the like. If it’s OK to call it a clothing store it’s the only clothing store I ever saw that has an on-premises beer license. It looks a little curious to see cowboys in there going through the stacks of jeans with one hand and holding longnecks with the other. . . . On display is Grandmother Priesmeyer’s 1911-model vacuum sweeper: hand-cranked. You pushed it along and cranked the handle, and it sucked up dirt. I’d never seen one. . . . Also I’ve been educated now to recognize a collar bag. It’s a leather draw-string pouch used to carry collars, back when collars came separate from shirts. There’s one in Priesmeyer’s, but it belonged to Grandpa Priesmeyer, and it’s not for sale. . . . The old building has the equivalent of a seven-room house upstairs. Henry Priesmeyer and his wife raised their family there.

 

Within just a few years, however, the chain of Priesmeyer stores was overwhelmed by the arrival of Walmart in rural Texas. Henry’s grandsons, who were then managing the stores, simply could not compete with the giant chain’s massive selection and low prices. They recall that, as the end neared, life-long customers would buy items at Walmart and then sheepishly ask the clerks at Priesmeyer’s to giftwrap them.

 

Henry retained an abiding devotion to family and to family history. He traveled many times to his birthplace in Oppendorf and insisted that his children and grandchildren meet and communicate with their German cousins. He also formed a strong friendship with Paul Theodore Priesmeyer, forty years his junior, who had early become obsessed with the history of the entire Priesmeyer clan. Paul was from nearby El Campo, and both he and Henry were convinced that they must be cousins. They set out to discover the exact relationship and worked together on the project, interviewing Priesmeyers wherever they found them, both in America and in Germany. They were not deterred by obstacles, even when an old woman in the village of Quernheim (origin of the El Campo branch) insisted that their two lines were unrelated to each other. Unfortunately, they were unable to solve the mystery in their lifetimes. One can only wish that they had learned the answer, as a reward for all their devotion: we now know that Henry and Paul were 7th cousins, once removed.

 

Henry died in 1975, at the age of 90. His grandchildren remember him fondly and reverently as the strong, industrious, ingenious, thrifty, devoted, and loving head of their family.

 

 

THE PRIESMEYER FAMILY TREE

 

The database developed for this family history project currently contains nearly one thousand Priesmeyer-surnamed individuals, including all 46 immigrants, with their ancestral trees and with their descendants through about 1940. An attempt has also been made to capture all Priesmeyers born in Germany before 1900, and it is hoped this list can be expanded as more information becomes available.

 

If you would like to see your ancestor’s family tree, it is suggested that you access the online index to the database, which is organized by full German given name. Since German immigrants typically chose to use a single anglicized given name in America, it is important that you first identify your ancestor using the summary list, which shows both their German and American given names. Once you’ve identified your immigrant ancestor in the online index, clicking on the name will take you to his/her main page, where you can select “pedigree” to see the family tree. If you need help, please contact the author.

 

You’ll observe that farm numbers are indicated throughout the family trees, which is helpful if you visit the area and wish to see the locations of your ancestors’ homes. It should be acknowledged, however, that these numbers are an anachronism before about 1680, when they were established officially in the community. Before that time, farms were referred to, for example, as simply “Priesmeyer’s place.” If the farm number is preceded by the word "by," it means that the family was not the farm holder but rather were landless laborers (Heuerlinge) who were living in a cottage located on the farm.

 

All records in the database are documented with source notes. The parish churchbooks are by far the most important source -- not just of Wehdem Parish but also of the other two parishes of Stemwede, Dielingen and Levern. But there are other sources as well, such as censuses, tax lists, marriage contracts, government reports, and the archives of Stift Levern.
 

 

FURTHER READING

 

Conzen, Kathleen Neils, “Germans,” in the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, ed. Stephan Thernstrom (Cambridge, 1980), pages 405-25.

 

Das Dorf Dielingen im Wandel der Zeiten, published by the St. Matthias Bruderschaft of Dielingen (Rahden, 2003).

 

Hillebrand, Stefanie, Jüdische Geschichte in Levern und Umgebung, 1800-1938 (Espelkamp, 1996).

 

Kammeier, Heinz-Ulrich, Wilfried Thünemann, and Bert Wiegel (eds.), Chronik von dem Kirchspiel Dielingen 1818-1879 (Rahden, 2010).

 

Kamphoefner, Walter D., The Westfalians, from Germany to Missouri (Princeton, 1987).

 

Kamphoefner, Walter D., and Wolfgang Helbich (eds.), Germans in the Civil War: the Letters They Wrote Home (Chapel Hill, 2006).

 

Kamphoefner, Walter D., Wolfgang Helbich, and Ulrike Sommer (eds.), News from the Land of Freedom: German Immigrants Write Home (Ithaca, 1991). The best available introduction in English to the experiences of German immigrants in America. Excellent summary essays and notes by Professor Kamphoefner.

 

Koop, Kai Ole, Das Dorf Drohne: Aspekte der siedlungsgeographischen und genealogischen Entwicklung einer westfälischen Bauerschaft seit dem frühen Mittelalter (Rahden, 2013).

 

Nordsiek, Hans; Heinz Redecker; et al, Tausend Jahre Levern: Beiträge zu seiner Geschichte (Minden, 1969). Among the best of the available local histories.

 

Oppenwehe: Festschrift zur 775-Jahrfeier, 1227-2002, published by the Gewerbeverein Oppenwehe-Oppendorf e.V. (Norderstedt, 2003).

 

Redecker, Heinz, Ein Dorf blickt zurück: 750 Jahre Niedermehnen (Lübbecke, 1992).

 

Redecker, Heinz, Stemwede: junge Gemeinde, alte Dörfer (Lübbecke, 1994). Excellent collection of photographs, with informative summary essays.

 

Redecker, Heinz (ed.), Chronik von dem Kirchspiel Levern, 1800-1878 (Lübbecke, 2002).

 

Redecker, Heinz, et al, Haldem: die Geschichte eines westfälischen Dorfes (Espelkamp, 1986). Among the best of the available local histories.

 

Rippley, La Vern J., The German-Americans (Boston, 1976).

 

Schumacher, Erich, Oppendorf -- Ort zwischen Berg und Bruch (Lübbecke, 1993).

 

So war es in Arrenkamp -- ein Dorfbuch, published by the Plattdeutscher Arbeitskreis Haldem (Lübbecke, 1991). Well written and illustrated, and filled with interesting historical detail.

 

von Husen, Ludger (ed.), Geschichte der Gemeinde Marl, 1140-1990 (Marl, 1990). Among the best of the available local histories.

 

von Husen, Ludger, and Horst Meyer, Flecken Lemförde: eine 750-jährige Gemeinde zwischen Dümmer und Stemweder Berg (Diepholz, 1998).

 

von Husen, Ludger, and Horst Meyer, Stemshorn: eine 750-jährige Gemeinde am Stemweder Berg (Diepholz, 2003). Among the best of the available local histories.

 

Wiegel, Bert (ed.), Chronik von dem Kirchspiel Wehdem, 1819-1879 (Espelkamp, 1994).

 

Wittich, Werner, Die Grundherrschaft in Nordwestdeutschland (Leipzig, 1896). The classic study.

 

Wollgramm, Heinz, et al, 1000 Jahre Wehdem, 969-1969 (Espelkamp, 1990).

 

 

CONTACT THE AUTHOR

 

This site was written and designed by Robert Jackson, great-great-grandson of Friedrich Priesmeyer and Henriette Köster, through their daughter Sophie. You can contact him via e-mail. If you can provide additional photos, anecdotes, and documents about the Priesmeyer clan, they would be much appreciated. In the interests of privacy, references to recent generations have not been included, but these could be added selectively as the site develops.

 

Please feel free to make suggestions for improving this site!

 

 

 

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